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China South Korea

China South Korea

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Published by: Marcus sam on Feb 07, 2009
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 China-South Korea Relations:
Can China Unstick the Korean NuclearStandoff?
Scott Snyder, Senior AssociateThe Asia Foundation/Pacific Forum CSIS
China’s hosting of the second round of six-party talks in Beijing at the end of Februarymarked the high point of China’s Korea diplomacy in the first quarter, stimulating aflurry of follow-up diplomatic contacts and shuttle diplomacy involving China and thetwo Koreas. PRC Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing made his first visit to Pyongyang onMarch 25-27, further extending high-level contacts with the top DPRK leadership thatnow seem to occur about once per quarter. The ROK’s newly appointed Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon visited Beijing on the heels of Li’s visit to Pyongyang in an exchange thathas enmeshed the PRC as a critical intermediary in peninsular affairs, which is part of China’s more assertive mediating role in the six-party talks. But to what end will China play this more active role?In the meantime, an extended squall over competing interpretations of the historicalsignificance and attachments of the Koguryo kingdom has heated up amid competingattempts by China and the DPRK (backed by South Korean scholarship and the ROK government) to claim the kingdom as part of its history. And competition over rawmaterials is introducing a new element of competition between South Korea and the PRCover procurement and import of raw materials such as iron ore and other primary itemsthat fuel economic growth in both countries. Despite South Korea’s increasingdependence on expanded exports to China for growth, China is competing with SouthKorea as both an export competitor and an importer of raw materials in third-countrymarkets.
Middle Kingdom mediation: a new stage for the PRC or diplomatic quagmire?
Chinese diplomats declared victory following the second round of six-party talks inBeijing, having succeeded in actually holding a second meeting and extracting a pledgeto continue the dialogue in spite of perceived recalcitrance from both Pyongyang andWashington. This meeting and the release of a chairman’s statement – not even a jointstatement among the parties – apparently constituted success in Beijing’s eyes, althoughsome reports suggested that the respective positions of the United States and the DPRK may have widened during the course of the meeting. In a ceremony set to be carried liveon Chinese television, PRC Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing was to announce a jointstatement among the parties agreeing to working-level talks and to a third round of six- party talks by the end of June. The statement affirmed the interest of all parties in a
98 peaceful settlement of the issue through dialogue and committed their efforts to achieve a“nuclear-weapon-free Korean Peninsula,” but failed to include a commitment to“complete, verifiable, irreversible disarmament” by the DPRK, which insisted that itshould be allowed to continue development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Alast-minute objection by the DPRK side kept Foreign Minister Li and the other delegations cooling their heels, delaying the closing ceremony for several hours. NorthKorean objections caused the joint statement to be reduced to a chairman’s statement, butthat didn’t stop the Chinese from declaring the second round of talks as a major diplomatic success.There have been a number of suggestions that the six-party talks could become a standing Northeast Asian dialogue on regional issues – if only the principal parties could stand toactually meet and resolve issues with each other. Neither Washington nor Pyongyang has behaved as Beijing had hoped, but China’s professional diplomats soldiered on in their affirmations of China’s indispensable (and now inextricable) mediating role. Despite thehumiliation of waiting to preside over the closing ceremony, Foreign Minister Li got right back into action with a late March round of shuttle diplomacy to Pyongyang for follow-up meetings with Chairman Kim Jong-il and a subsequent meeting in Beijing with theROK’s new foreign minister, Ban Ki-moon. The primary agenda for Li’s consultationswith both Koreas was how and when to begin the working-level round of six-party talks,which had once again been delayed by DPRK hesitancy despite agreement at the plenarysession to move forward. Working-level talks are likely to begin next quarter, but it isalready doubtful that a plenary would follow as pledged in June.China’s mediation efforts have become the safety net that provides reassurance to all the parties: as long as the six-party talks exist and are inching forward, regional perceptionsare that a process is underway and that the second North Korean nuclear crisis can beresolved through negotiation, no matter how intransigent the positions of the parties mayappear. However, the initial expectations of Beijing’s new leadership that the talks are part of a more modern, assertive, and constructive regional diplomatic initiative are probably higher. The talks have been a vehicle for substantive cooperation with the U.S.on nonproliferation and for involving Beijing in intensive diplomatic activity with bothPyongyang and Seoul, enhancing Beijing’s stature in the region and avoiding anyeconomic spillover from an escalation of tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program.Beijing’s once-distant and irregular diplomacy with Pyongyang has become considerablymore active as Beijing has sought to address tensions on the Korean Peninsula. After alengthy period during which there was virtually no exchange with the DPRK at senior levels, Jiang Zemin made his first visit as PRC president to Pyongyang in September of 2001. But former Foreign Minister Qian Qichen’s visit in the first quarter of last year marked a shift in the direction of regular senior-level visits by PRC officials toPyongyang. Since Qian’s visit, CCP Party Liaison Dai Bingguo, Chairman of theSupreme People’s Assembly Wu Bangguo, and now Foreign Minister Li have all met and personally discussed the North Korean nuclear issue with North Korea’s Kim Jong-ilwithin the past year.
99Ironically, the second North Korean nuclear crisis has intensified and regularized high-level contacts between the DPRK and the PRC, despite the likelihood that these twoformer fraternal socialist brothers no longer see eye-to-eye on very much. China-DPRK trade relations have been stable and are arguably more important to North Korea’ssurvival than they were last year, as the DPRK’s procurement of high-end items fromJapan has dried up due to stricter Japanese border controls and restrictions on DPRK vessels. A more active PRC diplomacy toward North Korea – and China’s strong effortsto involve the DPRK in two rounds of six-party talks, have also been accompanied byChinese pledges to provide significant economic and energy assistance, including areported pledge to build a $50 million bottling plant in Pyongyang. The PRC has steppedup other forms of economic assistance to North Korea as an incentive to keep NorthKorea coming to the talks, even while contributing to Pyongyang’s isolation as it pursuesits nuclear program.The PRC and South Korea have maintained parallel positions toward North Korea’snuclear development efforts, agreeing that the DPRK must give up its nuclear program but focusing on making a deal with North Korea to give up its nuclear weaponsdevelopment efforts. In this respect, South Korea’s position is closer to China’s than thatof the U.S., but this similarity has not yet driven South Korea and China to jointly pursuetheir objectives, as South Korea continues to work in the context of trilateral coordinationwith the U.S. and Japan. The administration of ROK President Roh Moo-hyunappreciates Beijing’s constructive role as host and intermediary of the six-party talks, butmay secretly harbor some jealousy of China’s mediating role, a task that some Rohadvisors had aspired to play prior to President Roh’s election and inauguration. Another factor that has distanced Beijing and Seoul has been sporadic differences over China’shandling of North Korean refugees, most recently dramatized by reports that somerefugees were staging hunger strikes in Chinese detention facilities to protest their imminent forced return to North Korea. China’s economic and political influence haveincreased considerably over the course of the past year, as South Koreans believe thatChina is likely to be the most important country to the future of the Peninsula.
Contending national histories over who ‘owns’ Koguryo
With the establishment in March of the South Korean government-funded ResearchCenter for Koguryo History, there are now competing state-funded efforts in China andSouth Korea, respectively, to claim the Koguryo Dynasty (37 B.C.-A.D. 667) and theManchurian Balhae (Bo-hai) Kingdom (698-926) as part of Korean and Chinese nationalhistorical narratives, respectively. The Chinese-sponsored five-year “Northeast AsiaHistory Project” was launched in February 2002. This controversy was originallytriggered by a North Korean request to UNESCO seeking to add Koguryo mural paintings to the World Cultural Heritage list in 2001. While the DPRK request has beenheld up due to questions about the condition of the murals, the PRC requested UNESCOrecognition for Koguryo-era castles and tombs in spring 2003. PRC efforts drew a strongSouth Korean public reaction and criticism from South Korean NGOs regarding theSouth Korean government’s failure to stop the PRC from claiming Koguryo as part of itsown history. NGO criticisms were heightened following comments from Culture Minister 

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